When Alan Badeaux took his grandchildren to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, he didn’t know he was about to embark on a years-long project that would call on the talents of many of his welding students at North Point High School.
PT-Boat 305, produced by Higgins Industries in New Orleans more than 70 years ago and put into use in the Mediterranean Theater during World War II, had other lives after it was sold as surplus following the war. It was a sightseeing tour boat and an oyster boat in the Chesapeake Bay before eventually landing at the museum and tapped for restoration.
The goal is to get the vessel — once known as The Sudden Jerk, The Bar Fly and The Half Hitch — operational and on Lake Pontchartrain with tourists and history buffs aboard. “Man, I wish I could help you work on this,” Louisiana native Badeaux told museum volunteers when he visited. But he lives in Maryland where he has taught at North Point since 2005.
For seven years, volunteers including lawyers, naval engineers, graduate students, veterans and others, have worked to restore the boat — surely they could find something for Badeaux to do. In turn, he enlisted his students to help work on fabricating poles and gates that had to be put on the boat if tourists were to tour and travel on it. The poles are a 21st-century addition, Badeaux said. During the war when the quick-attack patrol torpedo boat was used to counter enemy ships there were no handrails or fencing around the edge of the deck, he said.
With blueprints drafted by high school students in St. Charles Parish, La., North Point welders got to work when they were finished with other assignments. They worked on the PT-Boat project during NEST —the school’s one-hour lunch — or afterschool. Badeaux would take the completed pieces to New Orleans during trips down to visit family or they would get there through a volunteer network of transport.
“Virtually everything has to be remanufactured,” Bruce Harris, coordinator of the PT-305 restoration project, said in a clip on the museum’s YouTube channel. “We’re using the same material as close as possible as was used originally … a hundred years from now when somebody comes and looks at the boat, it will be as close to what would have come out of the Higgins factory as we could possibly make it.”
It wasn’t smooth sailing for the North Point project, though. “A lot of the work had to be re-done,” Badeaux said, adding that following the blueprints to the letter doesn’t always translate to what can be done on the actual finished project. So the students started over and eventually everything worked out. “Every pole from the gun turrets to the back of the boat,” Badeaux said. “They were all done by us.”
Senior Daphine Henderson has been in the welding program for three years. Her grandparents live in New Orleans and during a visit at Thanksgiving, Henderson and her mother went to the World War II museum where she saw PT-Boat 305. “I could see exactly what I have done,” Henderson said. “I feel honored,” she said of working on the project that holds significance not only for New Orleans but the country.
“This boat is a living piece of history, it’s not a replica,” Jim Letten, a volunteer crew member said in a YouTube clip. “It’s a sacred piece of America.” The $3.3 million PT-Boat 305 restoration is estimated to have been done by more than 200 volunteers putting in more than 100,000 hours of work. For more information on the museum, go to http://www.nationalww2museum.org/.
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